From the opening moments of Spend an Evening with Saddle Creek, it's easy to see that the young musicians who represent the acclaimed record label aren't ashamed of where they grew up. All too often, breakout stars from anywhere except New York City, Atlanta or another popular spot are quick to sweep their small-town roots under the rug. Yet members of Saddle Creek---including acts such as Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint, Rilo Kiley, Son, Ambulance and nearly a dozen others----proudly wear their Nebraskan roots on their sleeves.
The label---then known as Lumberjack Records---was established in the early 1990s, formed by a young group of friends who loved music and simply wanted to get their songs published. Inspired by the do-it-yourself nature of independent record companies and the like, the young hopefuls literally did it themselves. They'd produce limited runs of early demos (usually via cassette), do the packaging, play the occasional live show; basically, the works. As their experience grew, so did their level of success---and before long, they changed their moniker to Saddle Creek and gradually made a real name for themselves.
Currently, the most popular acts on the label are the ones listed above, though it's safe to say that this team looks to have quite a solid roster from top to bottom. That's where Spend an Evening with Saddle Creek really comes in, since it helps to establish a sense of history: who got the ball rolling, who joined later, and most everything in-between. It's certinaly not the most unique documentary you'll ever see, but it's still an honest story from a group of talented authors.
The name of this release refers to the first performance in which the record label's new name was used, and filmmakers Jason Kulbel and Rob Walters couldn't have picked a more fitting title. The documentary is laid out at a leisurely pace, though the rather basic interview-vintage clip-interview format gets a little tiresome by the time this 90-minute film plays through. I wouldn't quite consider myself the target market for the film, though, having only been casually familiar with a few of the artists before checking out this documentary---but for dedicated fans of the label, Spend an Evening with Saddle Creek will be a treasure trove of rarely-seen footage and other goodies.
A generous handful of modern interviews with prominent artists like Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint and more make up the bulk of the main feature's running time, devoting plenty of detail to the label's first baby steps and how it grew to be one of the hottest young independent havens for aspiring musicians. Better still (at least for curious music buffs), it's virtually peppered with tons of early performances and slightly more casual footage, though it might be a little much for those new to the label. Regardless of your level of Saddle Creek loyalty, though, Spend an Evening remains fairly entertaining throughout and serves as a solid tribute to everyone involved.
The DVD package from Plexifilm presents the documentary with a decent technical presentation and a nice chunk of bonus footage for those who simply can't get enough of the main feature. Fans who gladly shelled out for the label's back catalogue should have no problem picking this one up, while casual listeners might consider this one a strong weekend candidate. Let's look closer, shall we?
The audio is presented in a basic but solid Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix. There's obviously a lot of music during this film, with each of the tracks displaying a nice amount of separation and ambience. Dialogue comes through clearly, though no optional subtitles or captions are provided.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The anamorphic widescreen menus (seen above) are very basic, making for very smooth and easy navigation. This 90-minute film has been divided into a generous 22 chapters, while no layer change was detected during playback. The packaging is straightforward but attractive, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard clear keepcase with a colorful insert booklet included.
There's not a lot of variety in this department, but those who enjoyed the scattershot visuals of the main feature should be more than pleased. Included here are no less than 40 Additional Scenes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, unfortunately), including a handful of early performances, bonus "interviews" and general goofiness. Each of these additional scenes ranges from several seconds to several minutes in length, making for a satisfying (if not slightly disorganized) group of supplements. I'd have liked to see more "official" extras (music videos, etc., if they even exist), though their inclusion might not have meshed with the down-to-earth style of this disc.
It's certainly a niche release, but there's no doubt that fans of the Saddle Creek label will find a lot to like here. The main feature is strikingly honest and simple---though it might come across as a little slow for all but the biggest fans---while the densely packed group of additional scenes only reinforces such a statement. Even so, Plexifilm has done a decent job with this disc, ensuring that the film itself received a good technical presentation. Those new to Saddle Creek will certainly want to give this one a rental first, but those who consider themselves ardent followers of the blue-collar label should have no problem making the blind buy (if you haven't already). Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable desk jockey and art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA (how's that for diversity?). In his free time, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.